Saturday, December 19, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland Paris, 2nd Edition, by Bob Sehlinger. New York: Hungry Minds, Inc. (Wiley and Sons), 2001, 229 pp.
The birthday of The Happiest Place on Earth is almost here, so I think it's about time that I review another book about... Disneyland Paris. (Sorry, folks - when you engage in the "eeny meeny miney moe" method of pulling a book from the bookshelf, you never know what you're going to get.) Although I enjoy reading and doing reviews of just about any guidebook to the Disney theme parks, I especially enjoy finding and reading guidebooks about the overseas parks, because there just aren't that many books out there to help the armchair traveler/Disney fanatic to experience or plan for visiting those parks. Let's face it - if you want a book to plan for your trip to Disneyland or Walt Disney World, even the smallest bookshop will have something available for you to browse and buy. But if you'd like to visit one of the parks in Paris, Hong Kong, or Tokyo, lotsa luck. Today, we'll be looking at an older book that provides tips on visiting Disney's first European theme park that carries the name of a well-regarded series of guides to Disney theme parks and other vacation spots. But does this book live up to the Unofficial Guide name? We'll see...
The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland Paris was the second attempt by Bob Sehlinger, the author of The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland and The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, to offer a guide to one of Disney's overseas parks (the first attempt was The Unofficial Guide to Euro Disneyland, published in 1993). The book provides helpful information on planning a trip to France to visit Mickey and his pals, including the best times of the year and the week to go, the various ways of getting to Disneyland Resort Paris, how to get to and from the resort to the City of Light, hotel options, attractions, and dining options. While the book's nowhere near as hefty as its more famous cousin The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World (which I'm convinced could kill small animals if dropped carelessly), it's got a lot of useful information, all presented in that famous unbiased and slightly snarky Unofficial Guide style. The book even has a brief but concise writeup on the history of Disneyland Paris and French attitudes toward the park, which is one of the better articles I've seen on the subject.
I'm a big fan of the Unofficial Guides (as can be ascertained by the fact that I have quite a large collection of them!), and I'm glad to say that Bob Sehlinger and his team did a very good job with this book. The book provides a lot of good information and helpful tips for enjoying your Disneyland Paris vacation, including a few touring plans for the park. The book provides some good information about hotel and dining options in the villages surrounding the Disneyland Paris Resort, which I think is a nice touch (it's always good when guidebooks to Disney parks recognize that there are plenty of good options outside of Disney property). The book is a fun and easy read, and should feel familiar to the folks who have read the Unofficial Guides to the U.S. parks (maybe a little too familiar, but more on that in a moment).
The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland Paris does have a couple of problems. The biggest one is that the book hasn't been updated or reprinted since 2001, which means that you may want to verify any information in the book, especially as far as lodging and dining options, before you use it to plan your vacation. (I've heard that a new Unofficial Guide to Disneyland Paris may be in the works, and I certainly hope that's the case). While Bob provides a lot of unique information in this book, fans of the series will recognize passages that were cribbed from the U.S. park editions of the Unofficial Guide. That doesn't make the advice in these passages invalid - certainly the Disneyland and Walt Disney World editions share a fair amount of information - but it's an unwelcome distraction.
Unlike the Unofficial Guides to the U.S. parks, the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland Paris is relatively light on park maps - even for touring plans. That's disappointing, because the maps in the Unofficial Guides are among the better maps of the Disney parks that I've seen. My last quibble with the book is about something it has that the other books in the series don't have anymore - a brief guide to the attractions that are unique to the park. This is a really cool thing to include, and it'd be great to have something like this available again in all the Unofficial Guides, if only just to have something to show non-Disney fans that if you've seen one park, you have not in fact seen them all (Jay Rasulo's attempts to attempt to homogenize them notwithstanding).
The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland Paris is an informative, helpful, and opinionated guide to the Magic Kingdom in France. While it does take some information from guides in the series to the U.S. parks and is in desperate need of a new edition, it can still provide a Disney fan heading for Europe some good advice and suggestions for making the trip a little less expensive and stressful and a lot more fun. The book can be very tricky to find nowadays - it'll occasionally pop up in used bookstores or some of the online sites specializing in older and out-of-print books.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
The Disneyland Encyclopedia attempts to provide all the information that a Disneyland fan might need to settle an argument or refresh his or her memory. The book provides entries for the lands, major and minor attractions, shops, restaurants, events, key people involved, and important elements of Walt Disney's original theme park, and covers everything from the Park's groundbreaking to recent times. Obviously, the book doesn't cover everything about Disneyland - a book that did so thoroughly would be a lot larger than almost 500 pages - but it attempts to cover as much as possible given the constraints of a reasonably priced one-volume set. The book gives readers several ways to access information - by alphabetical listing, by index, by citations of other entries, and (most interestingly) by a set of maps of the Park with each location noted with a letter and number code. The book also contains numerous lists about things found (or previously found) in the Park, a decent bibliography, and listing of relevant websites where readers can find additional information.
This book was a labor of love for its author, Chris Strodder, and it shows. Chris writes the book's entries in an entertaining and very accessible style; for the most part, he avoids being overwhelmingly positive or overwhelmingly cynical when writing about various elements of Disneyland, but he also manages to avoid being overly dry and refrains from being so obsessed with the minutiae of the Park that he runs the risk of boring or alienating his readers. The book is nicely illustrated with photographs from Disneyland (all in black and white, unfortunately); I particularly liked his use of photographs of windows on Main Street to illustrate his entries about Disney Legends involved in the creation of the Park and its attractions.
While overall I enjoyed The Disneyland Encyclopedia, I do have a few quibbles with the book. As you might expect with any project of this depth and breadth, there are a few errors - most of them about places and things outside of Disneyland, but I noticed that there seemed to be more mistakes about the Park near the end of the book than at the beginning (Chris was starting to run out of steam, perhaps?). Chris did a pretty good job with his research, considering he didn't use a lot of primary sources (it seems like his most of his primary source materials were old soft-cover souvenir guidebooks), but I wish that he'd taken the extra time to resolve some questions that his reference materials either didn't have answers for or had contradictory answers for. And, of course, The Disneyland Encyclopedia isn't a complete encyclopedia, by any means; there are a lot of things about the Park that aren't covered in the book or that I found myself wishing had been covered more thoroughly. That said, the book should provide the answers for most general queries fans have about the Park - and should even provide some new information for the Disneyland fan who thinks he or she knows everything.
The Disneyland Encyclopedia is an interesting and fact filled reference book about Disney's first Magic Kingdom. While it does contain a few errors and isn't an all-encompassing guide to the Park, it should be a handy reference for Disney theme park fans looking for quick answers to questions they may have while pursuing their interests. The book is sure to be a welcome addition to any Disney fan's bookshelf. The book is readily available through numerous sources online and in many brick and mortar bookstores that carry a selection of books about Disney.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Friday, April 3, 2009
Zagat Disneyland Insider's Guide (John Deiner, Staff Editor). New York: Zagat Survey LLC, 2009; 108 pp.
If there's one thing you never have to worry about when you write a blog about books related to the Disney theme parks, it's a lack of material - especially not a lack of guidebooks to the parks. Disneyland and Walt Disney World are such popular travel destinations that it seems like every publisher wants to print a guidebook to them, and more publishers add to the selection regularly. This time, we'll be looking at a new guidebook to Disneyland from a well-established publisher of restaurant reviews and see how useful their reviews of an entire theme park might be to the average visitor.
If you're into fine dining and have had the need to explore your meal options in an unfamiliar city, you're familiar with the Zagat Guides. For the past 30 years, they've been providing ratings for restaurants based on extensive reader reviews; many restaurants take great pride in displaying stickers that they they've received a Zagat rating. A couple of years ago, Zagat decided to branch out and apply their review system to the Walt Disney World Resort, and in the new Zagat Disneyland Insider's Guide, they do the same to the Happiest Place on Earth.
The Zagat Disneyland Insider's Guide looks at the entire Disneyland Resort - both theme parks, Downtown Disney, and the Disneyland Resort Hotels, providing reviews and ratings of attractions, entertainment, shopping, and of course food - not just sit-down restaurants, mind you, but also fast food options and even fruit carts. Locations are rated on a 30-point scale, with every item having at least three separate ratings. For example, attractions and shows are rated by appeal to adults, appeal to children, and thrill level; restaurants are rated by food, decor, and service, with a separate box provided displaying average cost. In addition to the ratings, comments from Zagat reader surveys are provided for each location. The book also provides lists of top-rated locations for each district of the Resort, brief overviews of each area, and a separate color section with Disney-provided park maps and photographs of top-rated attractions, shopping, dining, and hotels.
The best thing about the Zagat Disneyland Insider's Guide is that the book makes finding information quick and easy; the book's well-organized and the information in it is concise. The book is also small enough that it's easy to carry along - its overall dimensions are probably the same as a small stack of park maps, so it'd be easy to carry along in a pocket or purse. I also like that it's easy to get an idea how much eating at a restaurant's going to set you back with aquick glance, and the lists at the back of the book breaking down attractions, shopping and dining into various categories are a nice touch.
So the Zagat Disneyland Insider's Guide is the perfect thing to take along with you on your next trip to the Park, right? Well, not quite. The biggest problem I have with the book is the format used in writing the reviews; rather than just having their staff writers come up with their own brief summary of the opinions provided by those surveyed, the Zagat folks decided to put together those review paragraphs by splicing together words from multiple individual comments. For example, here's part of the Disneyland Insider's Guide review of Dumbo the Flying Elephant:
" 'Every kid' 'has to ride' this 'quintessential' Fantasyland fixture 'at least once', as there's 'nothing like getting an elephant's-eye view' while 'soaring through the air' in 'colorful' circling pachyderms..."
Writing the reviews in this style probably sounded like a cute idea, but it gets annoying really quickly - especially if you decide to read the book all the way through (which granted isn't how this book's intended to be read). If you're looking for tips on when to visit and how to save time, there's a little bit of information in the Zagat Insider's Guide, but we're talking about one or two very short paragraphs. If you'd like some suggestions for touring the parks, the information you're provided is similarly limited; this isn't the book you want to buy if you're looking for a lot of in-depth information for planning your next visit to Anaheim. It's also not the book you're looking for if you'd like some information about hotels or shopping outside of the Disneyland Resort itself - the book deals only with what's on Disney property. Last but not least, a price tag of $14.95 for a book that's only about 125 pages in total length (108 pages of text plus the color section) may give some folks looking for the best value for their money some pause.
The Zagat Disneyland Insider's Guide is a well-organized and concise book that provides brief but useful reviews and ratings of attractions, shopping, and dining at the Disneyland Resort, and would probably serve as a useful quick reference to guests who are new visitors to the Happiest Place on Earth. However, its usefulness is hampered by an awkward writing style for the reviews, and some readers will find that the information provided by the book is a little too concise, keeping the book from being a useful planning tool. The book is readily available at most major book retailers and at the Disneyland Resort.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Carnival Undercover, By Brett Witter. New York: Plume (Penguin Putnam Group), 2003, 207 pp.
Before there was a Disneyland, there were carnivals and fair midways. Actually, you can argue that carnivals served as one of the inspirations for Disneyland - although not in a good way; Walt Disney has been quoted as saying that he intended his creation to be like nothing else in the world, especially not like the carnivals and fairs people were familiar with. But if what carnivals were and what they weren't helped define the Happiest Place on Earth, the success of Disneyland and other amusement and theme parks helped define carnivals, as well. For this review, I'm going to take a look at a book that explains the differences between carnivals and amusement parks and gives readers a peek behind the scenes of what's happening on the midway.
Carnival Undercover is part-expose and part love poem to the carnival and to the fairground midway. Brett Witter lets us in on how and why things happen the way the do at carnivals, how they differ from amusement parks and theme parks, how some of the amazing and annoying things you encounter at carnivals are done, how you can create a little of the carnival in your own home, and gain a (slight) advantage at the game booths. We learn things like what makes a carnival location and what makes for the best location in a carnival, what tell-tale signs of a poorly maintained carnival ride to look for, what midway games offer the best chance of winning and the least chance of winning, how freak show performers pull off their death-defying stunts, and what the life of a carny is like.
Interesting, I hear you say, but what does any of this have to do with Disney theme parks? Brett refers to the Disney theme parks several times throughout the book - mainly to point out how the theme park experience differs from the carnival experience, and not necessarily for the better. This includes comparisons of the multiple-entry, grid like nature of the carnival layout versus the "hub and spoke" layout of the Disney Magic Kingdoms, a review of how ride safety requirements differ between carnivals and theme parks, and even a critique of Disneyland's late, unlamented Rocket Rods.
Carnival Undercover is a really fun read. While Brett certainly doesn't view carnivals and carnies through rose-colored glasses, he has a strong sense of admiration and respect for the folks who make their living be working on the midway, and it shows in his book. Along the way, Brett makes a real effort to increase the reader's appreciation of carnivals and the carnival lifestyle as well, and provides some interesting tips and tricks that could be helpful to folks who like going to carnivals and fairs, including how to better your chances of winning and avoid gaffs (rigged games) on the midway. The book is a fascinating look at a topic that has seldom been given serious study.
So what problems do I have with Brett's book? At times, the book seems unfocused - veering away from its primary topic into discussions of amusement park attractions and attendance, among other things. My only other complaint about the book is that a lot of its facts are out of date, making you wonder about the accuracy of the rest of the book, but then this book has never been updated since its brief initial run, so to some extent you have to expect that sort of thing.
Carnival Undercover is an enjoyable and fascinating look at carnivals and fairs, providing information about how and why things happen the way the do on the midway, as well as tips and tricks to help the reader enjoy and appreciate their time at a fair or carnival a bit more. It's not intended as a serious or scholarly piece, and some readers may not appreciate the tongue-in-cheek attitude of the book, but it's a great way to learn about carnivals, amusement parks, and theme parks. If your interest in the amusement industry extends beyond the Disney theme parks, you may want to consider picking up a copy of this book.
Unfortunately, the book went out of print soon after its initial print run, but it's not difficult to find used copies through brick-and-mortar bookstores specializing in used or bargain books, or online booksellers like Amazon.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
The next time you visit Disneyland or Walt Disney World, take a minute to look at the nametag of the cast member who's assisting you. Chances are that underneath his or her name on the tag, you'll see a college name listed instead of that cast member's home town; that means that he or she is part of the Disney College Program, an internship program where Disney brings in college students from all over the country to "live, learn, and earn" for a semester as they work for the Mouse. Few people are aware of the program and fewer still have had the chance to be a part of it, so even some devoted Disney fans may not be aware of what it's like to be a college student working at the Disney theme parks. The book we're eviewing this time gives us a peek behind the curtain at the Disney College Program and its participants.
Mousecatraz is the nickname given to the Disney College Program by some of the interns based on the conditions they've experienced while working in it, and it's also the name of a book that shares information and anecdotes about the Disney College Program experience. The book takes us through the various phases of the College Program, from the recruiting seminars held on college campuses to the final goodbyes, and many of the things - good, bad, or odd - that can happen in between. Former College Program cast members share their experiences and stories of the things they witnessed while they were part of the program; they talk about their jobs at the Disney parks (and some of the things they did and were done to them while working at them), their experiences living with a large group of people their own ages from all over and the joy and the terror that can result, the educational experiences they received, and the things they did to break free from the monotony and frustration that sometimes goes with working in a theme park. While the young adults that participate in the College Program may look like stereotypical clean-cut All-American kids, they're subject to the same quirks, desires, urges, and foibles of any college student anywhere, and the things that have happened to them while they worked for Disney makes for some interesting stories - not all of them for small ears.
Wesley Jones, a former Disney College Program intern, mainly lets his fellow participants in the program tell readers what being a College Program cast member is like; Wesley provides some general information about various facets of the program, general information about the Walt Disney World Resort, and sets up some of the anecdotes, helping to tie the whole narrative together. I think things work out better for the book in this format, since if Wesley had just told the stories he'd heard, some folks might not be inclined to believe what they had read! Although it's pretty obvious that Wesley enjoyed and appreciated his time in the College Program (particularly when you read Wesley's own story in the final chapter), he doesn't appear to pull any punches; the book is more than happy to point out the mistakes and dumb actions of cast members, guests, and Disney managers alike. Wesley isn't salacious when he shares some of the more adult stories about being in the College Program; overall, he maintains his role as a more-or-less neutral observer throughout the book and lets the readers come to their own conclusions about the College Program.
I didn't have any major problems with Mousecatraz, but I can imagine there's going to be some readers that will. As I've mentioned above, some of the content of the book is definitely not suitable for kids (it's not that any of the stories are particularly graphic, it's just that some parents may not want their children reading about some of this stuff). If you're one of those folks that don't want the magic spoiled for them by finding out what happens behind the scenes, this isn't the book for you - Wesley doesn't give away too many secrets that most Disney fans don't already know, but any illusions readers harbor about the perfection of cast members and the well-olied machine that keeps the theme parks running may definitely be called into question after reading this book. If you're looking for some really graphic or bawdy stories, you're probably not going to be to happy with Mousecatraz, in spite of what the book jacket might have you believe; you're also probably not going to be thrilled with this book if you feel that Disney can do no wrong, because the Company does come in for some criticism in a few places in the book. If you can handle a few adult situations and a sometimes less-than-magical view of the Disney parks, this book's worth a read.
Mousecatraz is an interesting and (so far, at least) unique look into the Disney College Program and the true-life adventures experienced by its participants. The book's not really appropriate for pre-teenage children because of some adult themes, but if you have a college-age or nearly college age child who's contemplating signing up for Disney's internship program (or who might do so sometime soon), this book will give them and their parents a little better idea of what to expect than they'll get from a presentation or a glossy brochure. Although the book's a couple of years old, it's still readily available through Amazon.com and lulu.com.